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  • \f0\fs36 \cf0 \cb2 BOB SCHIEFFER: Good evening from the campus of Lynn University here in

  • Boca Raton, Florida. This is the fourth and last debate of the 2012 campaign, brought

  • to you by the Commission on Presidential Debates. This one's on foreign policy. I'm Bob

  • Schieffer of CBS News. The questions are mine, and I have not shared them with the candidates

  • or their aides. The audience has taken a vow of silence -

  • no applause, no reaction of any kind except right now when we welcome President Barack

  • Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. (Sustained cheers, applause.) Gentlemen, your campaigns

  • have agreed to certain rules and they are simple. They have asked me to divide the evening

  • into segments. I'll pose a question at the beginning of each segment. You will each

  • have two minutes to respond, and then we will have a general discussion until we move to

  • the next segment. Tonight's debate, as both of your know,

  • comes on the 50th anniversary of the night that President Kennedy told the world that

  • the Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba - perhaps the closest we've

  • ever come to nuclear war. And it is a sobering reminder that every president faces at some

  • point an unexpected threat to our national security from abroad. So let's begin.

  • The first segment is the challenge of a changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism.

  • I'm going to put this into two segments, so you'll have two topic questions within

  • this one segment on that subject. The first question, and it concerns Libya, the controversy

  • over what happened there continues. Four Americans are dead, including an American ambassador.

  • Questions remain. What happened? What caused it? Was it spontaneous?

  • Was it an intelligence failure? Was it a policy failure? Was there an attempt to mislead people

  • about what really happened? Governor Romney, you said this was an example

  • of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes. I'd

  • like to hear each of you give your thoughts on that.

  • Governor Romney, you won the toss. You go first.

  • MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Bob, and thank you for agreeing to moderate this debate this

  • evening. Thank you to Lynn University for welcoming us here, and Mr. President, it's

  • good to be with you again. We were together at a humorous event a little earlier, and

  • it's nice to maybe be funny this time not on purpose. We'll see what happens. (Laughter.)

  • This is obviously an area of great concern to the entire world and to America in particular,

  • which is to see a - a complete change in the - the - the structure and the -

  • the environment in the Middle East. With the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that

  • there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation

  • on the part of women and - and public life and in economic life in the Middle East. But

  • instead we've seen in nation after nation a number of disturbing events. Of course,

  • we see in Syria 30,000 civilians having been killed by the military there. We see in -

  • in - in Libya an attack apparently by - well, I think we know now by terrorists of

  • some kind against - against our people there, four people dead. Our hearts and minds

  • go to them. Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaida-type individuals.

  • We have in - in Egypt a Muslim Brotherhood president.

  • And so what we're seeing is a - a - a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of

  • hopes we had for that region. Of course, the greatest threat of all is Iran, four years

  • closer to a nuclear weapon. And - and we're going to have to recognize that we have to

  • do as the president has done. I congratulate him on - on taking out Osama bin Laden

  • and going after the leadership in al-Qaida. But we can't kill our way out of this mess.

  • We're - we're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy

  • to help the - the world of Islam and - and other parts of the world reject this radical

  • violent extremism which is - it's really not on the run. It's certainly not hiding.

  • This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous

  • threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive

  • strategy to help reject this kind of extremism. MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. President.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, my first job as commander in chief, Bob, is to keep the American people

  • safe, and that's what we've done over the last four years. We ended the war in Iraq,

  • refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, al-Qaida's

  • core leadership has been decimated. In addition, we're now able to transition

  • out of Afghanistan in a responsible way, making sure that Afghans take responsibility for

  • their own security, and that allows us also to rebuild alliances and make friends around

  • the world to combat future threats. Now, with respect to Libya, as I indicated in the last

  • debate, when we received that phone call, I immediately made sure that, number one,

  • we did everything we could to secure those Americans who were still in harm's way;

  • number two, that we would investigate exactly what happened; and number three, most importantly,

  • that we would go after those who killed Americans, and we would bring them to justice, and that's

  • exactly what we're going to do. But I think it's important to step back

  • and think about what happened in Libya. Now, keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership

  • in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to - without

  • putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in

  • Iraq - liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years,

  • got rid of a despot who had killed Americans. And as a consequence, despite this tragedy,

  • you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying,

  • America's our friend. We stand with them. Now that represents the opportunity we have

  • to take advantage of. And you know, Governor Romney, I'm glad that you agree that we

  • have been successful in going after al-Qaida, but I have to tell you that, you know, your

  • strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed

  • to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.

  • MR. ROMNEY: Well, my strategy's pretty straightforward, which is to go after the

  • bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to - to kill them, to

  • take them out of the picture. But my strategy is broader than - than that. That's

  • - that's important, of course, but the key that we're going to have to pursue

  • is a - is a pathway to - to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism

  • on its own. We don't want another Iraq. We don't want another Afghanistan. That's

  • not the right course for us. The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the

  • - the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these - these

  • jihadists, but also help the Muslim world. And how we do that? A group of Arab scholars

  • came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the - the world reject

  • these - these terrorists. And the answer they came up was this.

  • One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment

  • and that of our friends - we should coordinate it to make sure that we - we push back

  • and give them more economic development. Number two, better education.

  • Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help

  • these nations create civil societies. But what's been happening over the last

  • couple years as we watched this tumult in the Middle East, this rising tide of chaos

  • occur, you see al-Qaida rushing in, you see other jihadist groups rushing in.

  • And - and they're throughout many nations of the Middle East.

  • It's wonderful that Libya seems to be making some progress, despite this terrible tragedy,

  • but next door, of course, we have Egypt. Libya's 6 million population, Egypt 80 million population.

  • We want - we want to make sure that we're seeing progress throughout the Middle East.

  • With Mali now having North Mali taken over by al-Qaida, with Syria having Assad continuing

  • to - or to kill - to murder his own people, this is a region in tumult. And of

  • course Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon. We've got real gaps in the region.

  • MR. SCHIEFFER: We'll get to that, but let's give the president a chance.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that al-Qaida's a threat

  • because a few months ago when you were asked, what's the biggest geopolitical threat

  • facing America, you said Russia - not al-Qaida, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling

  • to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for

  • 20 years. But, Governor, when it comes to our foreign

  • policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social

  • policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s. You say that you're not interested

  • in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago you said you think we

  • should have more troops in Iraq right now. And the - the challenge we have - I

  • know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every

  • time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong. You said we should have gone into

  • Iraq despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should

  • still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that we shouldn't be passing

  • nuclear treaties with Russia, despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans,

  • voted for it. You've said that first we should not have

  • a timeline in Afghanistan then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which

  • means not only were you wrong but you were also confusing and sending mixed messages

  • both to our troops and our allies. So what - what we need to do with respect

  • to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is

  • all over the map. And unfortunately, that's the kind of opinions that you've offered

  • throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength or keeping America

  • safe over the long term. MR. SCHIEFFER: I'm going to add a couple

  • of minutes here to give you a chance to respond. MR. ROMNEY: Well, of course I don't concur

  • with what the president said about my own record and the things that I've said. They

  • don't happen to be accurate. But - but I can say this: that we're talking about

  • the Middle East and how to help the Middle East reject the kind of terrorism we're

  • seeing and the rising tide of tumult and - and confusion. And - and attacking me is

  • not an agenda. Attacking me is not talking about how we're going to deal with the

  • challenges that exist in the Middle East and take advantage of the opportunity there and

  • stem the tide of this violence. But I'll respond to a couple of the things you mentioned.

  • First of all, Russia, I indicated, is a geopolitical foe, not -

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Number one - MR. ROMNEY: Excuse me. It's a geopolitical

  • foe. And I said in the same - in the same paragraph, I said, and Iran is the greatest

  • national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and

  • time again. I have clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when

  • it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin, and I'm certainly not going to say to him, I'll

  • give you more flexibility after the election. After the election he'll get more backbone.

  • Number two, with regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should have

  • been a status of forces agreement. Did you - PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's not true.

  • MR. ROMNEY: Oh, you didn't - you didn't want a status of forces agreement?

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, but what I - what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops

  • in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.

  • MR. ROMNEY: I'm sorry, you actually - there was a -

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Here - here is - here is -

  • MR. ROMNEY: There was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces

  • agreement. And I concurred in that and said we should have some number of troops that

  • stayed on. That was something I concurred with.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor - MR. ROMNEY: That was your posture. That was

  • my posture as well. I thought it should have been 5,000 troops.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor - MR. ROMNEY: I thought it should have been

  • more troops. But you - (inaudible). PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is just a few weeks

  • ago. MR. ROMNEY: The answer was, we got no troop

  • (through ?) whatsoever. PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is just a few weeks

  • ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq.

  • MR. ROMNEY: No, I didn't. I'm sorry, that's -

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: You made a major speech. MR. ROMNEY: I indicated - I indicated that

  • you failed to put in place a status of forces agreement at the end of the conflict that

  • - MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor -

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Governor, here's - here's one thing - here's one thing

  • - here's one thing I've learned as commander in chief.

  • MR. SCHIEFFER: Let him have - (inaudible). PRESIDENT OBAMA: You've got to be clear,

  • both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand and what you mean. Now, you

  • just gave a speech a few weeks ago in which you said we should still have troops in Iraq.

  • That is not a recipe for making sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities

  • and meeting the challenges of the Middle East. Now, it is absolutely true that we cannot

  • just beat these challenges militarily, and so what I've done throughout my presidency

  • and will continue to do, is, number one, make sure that these countries are supporting our

  • counterterrorism efforts; number two, make sure that they are standing by our interests

  • in Israel's security, because it is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.

  • Number three, we do have to make sure that we're protecting religious minorities and

  • women because these countries can't develop unless all the population - not just half

  • of it - is developing. Number four, we do have to develop their economic - their

  • economic capabilities. But number five, the other thing that we have to do is recognize

  • that we can't continue to do nation building in these regions. Part of American leadership

  • is making sure that we're doing nation building here at home. That will help us maintain

  • the kind of American leadership that we need. MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me interject the second

  • topic question in this segment about the Middle East and so on, and that is, you both mentioned

  • - alluded to this, and that is Syria. The war in Syria has now spilled over into Lebanon.

  • We have, what, more than a hundred people that were killed there in a bomb. There were

  • demonstrations there, eight people dead. Mr. President, it's been more than a year

  • since you saw - you told Assad he had to go. Since then 30,000 Syrians have died. We've

  • had 300,000 refugees. The war goes on. He's still there. Should we reassess our policy

  • and see if we can find a better way to influence events there, or is that even possible? And

  • it's you - you go first, sir. PRESIDENT OBAMA: What we've done is organize

  • the international community, saying Assad has to go. We've mobilized sanctions against

  • that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian

  • assistance, and we are helping the opposition organize, and we're particularly interested

  • in making sure that we're mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria. But ultimately,

  • Syrians are going to have to determine their own future. And so everything we're doing,

  • we're doing in consultation with our partners in the region, including Israel, which obviously

  • has a huge interest in seeing what happens in Syria, coordinating with Turkey and other

  • countries in the region that have a great interest in this.

  • Now, this - what we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that's

  • why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition.

  • But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in

  • Syria is a serious step. And we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know

  • who we are helping, that we're not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually

  • could turn them against us or our allies in the region.

  • And I am confident that Assad's days are numbered. But what we can't do is to simply

  • suggest that, as Governor Romney at times has suggested, that giving heavy weapons,

  • for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be

  • safer over the long term. MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor.

  • MR. ROMNEY: Well, let's step back and talk about what's happening in Syria and how

  • important it is. First of all, 30,000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian

  • disaster. Secondly, Syria's an opportunity for us

  • because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria

  • is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea. It's the

  • route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel.

  • And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a

  • - a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us. And finally, we

  • don't want to have military involvement there. We don't want to get drawn into

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